For today’s piece I’ve decided to preview a couple of Festival races, and in doing so, will focus on only those that I believe are realistic contenders.
The RSA Novices’ Chase looks to be a competitive renewal, with an Irish pair currently heading the market.
Monalee was a gallant runner-up in last year’s Albert Bartlett and has won two of his three starts over fences. His one defeat came when falling in a Grade One over the Christmas period, though he put that mishap behind him when jumping brilliantly on his way to winning the Flogas Novice Chase in February. It looked a strong renewal and though the pack were hot on his tail he battled bravely to claim victory. That success came at 2m5f, and there’s some concern as to his ability to see out the 3m trip at Cheltenham. He looked the quicker horse in the Flogas, but the following three were all gaining at the line. I’m not convinced that a three-mile slog with a stamina sapping hill to finish will suit him. I fancy he’d have won the JLT.
I’d argue that Presenting Percy was given a slightly inflated handicap mark over hurdles, following his victory in last year’s Pertemps at Cheltenham. He was certainly put in his place at Punchestown the following month when beaten some way out by Ireland’s best staying novice hurdlers. Nevertheless, he was always likely to make a better chaser and that appears to be the case. His last run was his best, when getting close to Our Duke in the Red Mills chase at Gowran (was in receipt of 7lbs). The trip was too short that day, and unlike Monalee, he looks sure to appreciate the rigors of the RSA. I still have a nagging doubt that he’s not quite as good as some believe.
Dounikos, trained by Gordon Elliott, and the Willie Mullins-trained Al Boum Photo, were hot on the heels of Monalee last time at Leopardstown. The pair clashed at Limerick over the Christmas period, with Dounikos appearing a fortunate winner as Al Boum came down at the last fence. The Mullins contender is only a six-year-old and whether he’s quite ready physically is a slight concern. I have a feeling that he’ll prove the best of these long-term and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go very close.
Dounikos is my idea of the winner. He was squeezed out at the last in the Flogas before staying on strongly for fourth. He lacks gears, but both the trip and that stiff Cheltenham finish should prove ideal.
Black Corton certainly deserves a mention having improved throughout the winter. He’s eight from 11 over fences, including a couple of wins at Cheltenham. He’s a slick jumper and has proved a gutsy stayer. But I’d be surprised if he has enough class to win this. Testing conditions will help his cause, but I’d rather have seen him in the four-miler.
I’ll be taking on the front two in the market and hoping that Dounikos gets the better of the younger Al Boum Photo.
Supasundae heads the market for the Stayer’s Hurdle, with Jess Harrington convinced that he’s a better horse this season. He won the Coral Cup at the meeting 12 months ago, before losing out to Yanworth at Aintree. He was also ‘done’ late on by Apple’s Jade at Leopardstown over Christmas, though the mare was in receipt of 7lbs, and is exceptional. The trainer believes that this fella needs better ground, and as an eight-year-old he’ll likely be at the peak of his powers. Some see the Apple’s Jade defeat as a negative, but I fancy trying to give that much weight to the mare is nigh-on impossible. Supasundae has a huge chance in this.
As does the Jedd O’Keeffe-trained Sam Spinner. His victory in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot confirmed his status as one of the leading stayers, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t go well at Cheltenham. He was 10-lengths ahead of Unowhatimeanharry that day and looked full of running as he crossed the line. Six-year-olds have a great record in the race, and this fella will take some pegging back.
Yanworth looks sure to go close and I’m convinced that this is the right race for him. Solwhit and Nichols Canyon both stepped-up in trip to win this in recent years and Yanworth looks a similar type. He’ll be travelling powerfully turning for home, and it’s then a case of whether the stamina holds out, or the likes of Sam Spinner can draw the sting out of him.
The New One, though older, has a similar profile to Yanworth. He’ll likely take a lead from Sam Spinner and will be played as late as possible. Stamina is also a concern with this fella and having run at two miles for most of his career, he’ll need to settle off a slower pace. He ‘ran on strongly’ to defeat future Grand National winner Rule The World, in the Neptune of 2013, and at that point in his career you’d probably have said that three miles would prove ideal. I think we’d all love him to win. He’s certainly got a chance.
This is an incredibly difficult race to call. It should also prove to be a magnificent race to watch, with Sam Spinner setting the fractions, shadowed by speedier rivals waiting to pounce. I’m backing the front-running warrior to fend off all-comers in a thriller. It’s Sam Spinner for me, with Yanworth and Supasundae best of the rest.
Best of luck to those having a punt.